Day 29: Reflection on Travel and Motivation, Comfort and Deprivation, Freedom and Frustration

The harshness and discomfort of the road should be softened by short periods of comfort. A single night of sleeping indoors on a pillowed bed, taking a shower with soap, eating a dinner of meat and vegetables rather than the usual rice and beans, drinking good filtered water, and fueling up with a large breakfast in the morning can do much to offset the anemic and ascetic weariness that comes from depriving oneself of those pleasures for weeks on end. All you need is one night to relax and not have to worry about getting what you need. Without this sporadic comfort, you begin to lose sight of your purposes for traveling, one of which was to recover your joy and wonder at life. You get tunnel vision. Before going out on the road, you had worked a menial job, lived a humdrum existence, read books of adventure in your spare time, and hungered for the excitement of travel, the inspiration you’d surely feel, the soulful people you’d meet along the way. Now you just want it to be over, get to the end, be where there is no more road. You hunger to sleep in a warm bed. The road becomes something to complete, the journey something to be finished and done with. The path in front of you something to put behind you.

Besides your thirst for indoor comforts, you want to get to the end partly because you think the end will mean no more feeling like an eternal beginner. To live on the road is to exist as an eternal beginner. The vagabond has no profession to master, no trade to become expert in, or at least pretend to be proficient at. In each new town he wakes up knowing he must start over again, learn anew how to be alive, find some way to make it to the next town. He cannot fall back on old ways. There is no falling back; there is only going forward.

But when the man on the road starts to get tunnel vision, this idea that “there is only going forward” becomes distorted. He goes forward not to grow and be shocked awake by the new but simply to get to the end where he can sleep in peace, where he does not have to work hard for every mile, where comfort is a given, though taken rather than received with gratitude, and does not need to come as some kind of reward. He has lost perspective; he has forgotten that one fully appreciates what one has only after being deprived of it. Compassion comes not through happiness but through sorrow. Connection with other human beings is deepest not through daily and habitual interaction but when it occurs unexpectedly after you have experienced the depths of loneliness and isolation. You take most pleasure in the sweet and simple things of life not when you feel no pain but when pain itself has made your heart soft enough to appreciate those moments when it is full.

The man goes out on the road because he imagines that travel will fill his heart. Then, once on the road, he feels his heart empty, and instead of experiencing this emptiness, he rejects it as not part of his plan and imagines a life off the road where his heart will be full. He feels on the road, more intensely than he ever felt off it, his isolation. People see him riding alone on the side of the highway and perhaps are reminded of their own isolation, which they had tried to repress. They honk or curse or make rude hand gestures. By his mere presence, he has dared to call into question the solidity of their illusions, the unsturdy foundations of their fragile lives, of the fragility of all human life. But the honker is the exception. Most people are easily able to see themselves in the voyager, the pilgrim forced by a heart made restless by the intensity of his longing, to live with no home, close to the edge of being and non-being. Instead of rejecting that what they see in this restless heart is their own restlessness, these people welcome the wanderer as they would their own son. Having experienced his isolation deeply, the traveler is all the more appreciative of this welcome.

Even so, the feeling of rejection that comes when a car honks, as you pedal at a snail’s pace for miles up a steep grade, is enough to cancel out ten occasions of welcome and support. Aliveness quickly becomes deadness, aloneness turns to loneliness, and what had seemed purposeful almost instantly seems purposeless. You wonder what in hell you are doing, where you are going, why you put up with the frustrations that are part and parcel of life lived out of doors. And yet the frustrations are bearable. You chose to experience them when you left the comfortable house, where your frustration stemmed from feeling confined and constricted. Everywhere you go you face frustration. Now, outside the house where there was too much peace, you are frustrated that you can’t find any peace at all, that you can’t seem to be happy even though you are free.

Dreaming of what life could be always makes life as it actually is feel drab, without color, uninspiring. My purpose for living life on the road is to understand, by actual experience, what life actually consists of, what my life means to me. Not what I wish life could be, but what it actually is. To understand who I am, I must  understand what life is. Just as I will never fully understand what life is, I will never fully understand who I am. To become whole is not to understand everything but to have the humility to admit that one does not and cannot understand all, to graciously come to terms with not being all-powerful, to rejoice at not being God.

I would rather be frustrated and free than frustrated and unfree. I would rather make the conscious choice to live on good terms with deprivation than take a lack of deprivation for granted. I must come to terms with all sides of myself. I am as much the cursing, pickup-truck-driving honker as I am the caring widow who shelters me for the night and cooks a hot meal for the two of us as the cold rain pours down on the roof. I am as much the hateful excluder as I am the peaceful protestor.

All that I experience must become my teacher. There will still be plenty of times that I don’t like what I’m experiencing and wish it could be different. I’m rather be warm than cold. I’d rather be connected than isolated. I’d rather be intimate with another than lonely. But on the road my resistance to what I experience does not have the same feeling of futile and hopeless rebellion. There is no sense of, “I should not be feeling this way.” The choice to go out on the road is the choice to put myself at the mercy of Life, and there is little point in resisting what Life gives me. When she opens her hand, why should I close my heart? When Life opens her hand, something new comes into the world, and I am on the road to come into contact with the new. Not only to come into contact with the new but to embrace it, to open my own hands in a posture of surrender and reconciliation and let Life put what she will into them, for embracing what Life places into my hands places me in the hand of Life, the only place where I will ever know what it means to be alive.

 

 

 

 

Biking the Oregon Coast Part 2, Day 2: From Lincoln City, Oregon to the Washington State Line

I woke up before the sun rose at the campground in Lincoln City. I had gotten to the site late the night before. There had been no one at the window, so I didn’t pay for the site. I left before anyone could hassle me over that. It was before six in the morning, but when I got to the road it was still maddeningly busy.

This trip was a microcosm of the longer trip I had done from Montana to Arizona almost four years before. I experienced all the feelings I had on that trip, but in a shorter period of time. There was the same need to go, the same confused and unclear longings, the same restlessness, the same moments of doubt, the same feelings of loneliness, the same experiences of accomplishment and jubilation. The feelings were condensed on this trip; they did not have the time to fade that they would on a longer journey. They came in shorter but more intense bursts. For me, the more intense the feelings are, the more rewarding. When the road loses its intensity, it’s time to go home, if you’ve got one. If the road is home it’s time to leave home for a time, settle down for a week or two.

There was a streak of insanity to the journey up the Oregon Coast. Each day I rode for over ten hours. Ten the first day, almost fourteen the second, twelve on the third, and thirteen hours on the last day. Why? I had a week to do it, but I did it in four days, and when I was done I felt like I wouldn’t be able to bike for at least four more. I could have averaged more like eight hours on the road per day instead of twelve. But maybe I wanted to test my endurance, as I pedaled by the eternally enduring sea.

So the trip was a microcosm.

I experienced moments of doubt. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? These feelings are probably normal for any trip, but this one somehow seemed more purposeless to me than any. To go out while resolving not to return is one thing. I can understand that. But to go for a four-day out and back tour, even along a beautiful stretch like the Oregon Coast—that is more difficult to understand. Yet I was doing it. I felt like I needed to do it. I certainly wasn’t doing it for fun. There were moments of exhilaration, feelings of strength. But more often it was painful. The wind on the way north was relentless, that cannot be stressed enough. The going was slow. It was work more than fun, work without the weekly check. It is easy to forget how to have fun, and often times I forget. I was not taking an easy ride up the coast. I was booking it, a man on a mission, but what my mission was exactly, I couldn’t say. When I started going and the wind was relentless, I just grimaced. Very well then, into the wind. I welcomed the wind with wild grins contorted by pain.

There was something holding me in Oregon, something I felt was concurrent with my purpose as an individual, but its hold was getting looser. Still, I couldn’t go out if I wouldn’t come back. But as long as I returned I could still go. I wanted to push through all feelings without pushing any of them under. I felt as unsettled and restless as I ever have. I knew the best way for me to deal with those feelings was to keep moving, keep cranking up the revolutions and intensity until I could crank no more. On the trip, that worked; after the trip ended I felt exhausted and could barely move for a few days and then the restlessness returned with a vengeance, what had been holding me loosened its grip still more, and I ended up returning to the coast to do Oregon’s southern route.

I experienced moments of loneliness. On a solo trip, there will be loneliness. I would rather be alone and experience occasional bouts of loneliness than be with another and desire to be alone. The desire to be alone is usually stronger in me than the desire for a companion. When it is not, then I feel lonely.

I remember passing a party on the outskirts of Tillamook on Saturday night, heading back from the Washington border. I saw a woman and man kissing out on the deck, the woman in a bikini. The sun was setting. I felt the loneliness; there was nothing to do but ride on, bringing the loneliness along for the ride.

As I rode, I thought about why that particular scene brought loneliness. It seemed so much like the essence of something, some ideal I had always imagined but never realized. The vast sweep of sand stretching out below, empty of people, the magnificent and rock-islanded Oregon coast, the sun sinking slowly, and a young couple having found their place feeling a part of it all, seeing each aspect of the scene—the vastness of the beach, the power of the sea, the brightness of the sun—reflected in the other’s eyes.

A small, for some reason nearly forbidden part of me felt lonely for that life. I knew I would never experience that much contentment, that much peace and easy happiness, for longer than a few hours or minutes. I cannot understand actively pursuing that life. I take those feelings as they come, but I do not pursue them. I have never been able to let myself experience them for too long. There has to be some conflict, some war with the self, some divine discontent, in order to live a creative life. So I tell myself, at least. My creative output would have to be my romantic sunset night. I too was a part of this scene, a part of it all, not least because there was no one else there with me. My aloneness made me an integral part of what a companion might take away from. So my rationalizations went. As I continued moving, the thoughts slipped away like the sinking of the sun. I kept moving as it started to get dark.

sunset oregon post 2

But that was the following day. This day was still Friday, one of the most physically difficult days of the trip. I don’t know how to write about the actual biking. I just kept pedaling until I got to where I ended up, which was the brilliantly named town of Seaside. It was painful; I was in despair most of the time; I cursed the cars and wind; I belted out Dylan and Zevon again; and I talked to a long-bearded man who was walking from San Francisco to Seattle. I thought it was strange when he said he was walking. We were in the town of Tillamook, renowned for cows and what comes from cows, and we were both walking . I could see that he was walking. That was evident. I was also walking. Later when riding it hit me that he actually meant he was walking the coast, up to Seattle. That was a more impressive feat.

The long-bearded man was from Flagstaff and wearing a NAU shirt; apparently, he had spent some at the Wednesday community lunch offered at Prescott College. That was quite a coincidence. When I said I went to Prescott College, he said, “One of them, huh?” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I answered, “yes and no.” I didn’t explain further but if I did I would’ve said,

“I go to the school but I do not feel like ‘one of them’, or one of anything, save the human race occasionally. And though I like being outdoors, and most people at Prescott College like being outdoors, that alone does not make me one of them. In fact, that is one of the reasons I find it hard to be there. How do I distinguish myself when there are so many others with the same interests, the same passions. The need to stand out has always been much stronger in me than the need to fit in. However, my natural inwardness does not usually allow me to stand out, except when writing takes my place, and the words are authentic and passionate. And how does it take my place? What place is there to take? Who is authentic? What is passion if invisible? And where do I go if writing takes my place? Who goes? Who writes? Who knows? Go home! You long-bearded expatriate from Flagstaff! Go moan for man! Go eat the famous Tillamook cows! And how authentic is it when it takes my place? You ask. As authentic as a place holder? Have I placed my trust in images and distorted facts? Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at? I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me any better than that?”

http://videosift.com/video/Bob-Dylan-Idiot-Wind-1976 (very cool version)

And then the long-bearded expatriate of Flagstaff would probably be mightily confused because indeed I had just met him less than two minutes ago and had not known him for all these years, unless he knew the Dylan song and then perhaps we would have joined in a duet, and after finishing and radically butchering most of the song I would’ve said, ‘Let’s go, I’ll walk my bike to Seattle with you’ and we would have taken off for the road north and I would never have gotten back to school because I’d be walking up the coast with this man who would call me Alias while I would call him Augustine.

But none of that happened because I just answered, ‘yes an no.’ We talked for a few minutes, I wished him luck, then I took off again for the Washington state line.

The wind was howlin’ and outrageous but I just put my head down and pedaled slowly and steadily until I made it to Seaside close to sundown. All the tent sites were equally as outrageous in price as the wind was in power, so I camped by the side school which I hoped was closed for the summer. Anyways it was Friday night. I ate a burger in a fish joint and then went and saw a movie by myself: Spy. It was very funny but I nearly fell asleep during it for exhaustion.

I slept without issue that night by the school, woke up late, and went to a continental breakfast at the Quality Inn. Illegal! You rotten vagrant! You might roar with scorn and derision in your eyes, to which I probably shrug my shoulders and give no response. Though I was itching to get back to the road, now being only about twenty miles from the state line and the turn around point and the wind at my back, food was necessary, and also free, if illicit. No issue at the Quality Inn either, and some quality eggs, sausages, granola, blueberry muffins, and I forget what else. On previous trips I had once done this often without shame, feeling I deserved it from the riding I was doing, but I was starting to feel slightly uneasy. I was older now, nearing the age when other people were making money, maybe even sleeping at hotels and getting the continental breakfasts with good consciences and emptier wallets. Well, regardless, I was starving and felt I had the right to the food that would probably been thrown out anyways. I wasn’t causing anyone any pain. Entitlement! Rationalization! You might roar with scorn and derision in your eyes, to which I would probably shrug my shoulders and give no response, though perhaps I would secretly agree.

So I ate and went back on the road, where I would ride up to Astoria and get pummeled by wind from what felt like every direction as I rode over the bridge to Washington in order to promptly turn around and head back over the bridge to Oregon. Insanity! You might roar, enjoying yourself now with glee, to which I would openly and wholeheartedly agree, with a shrug and perhaps a wild yodel, now with the wind at my back.

Washington

Biking The Oregon Coast (Part 1): From Florence to Lincoln City

I had planned on starting from Eugene but there wasn’t a place to sleep. Even the Wal-Mart was not an option. No overnight parking, a sign said. I kept driving west towards the coast. The first town off the 101 was Florence. I parked by the beach and slept in the car, the windows down so I could hear the wind and sea outside.

I woke up as the fog was clearing, changed into a swimsuit and ran up the dunes that separated me from the sea. I jumped into the ocean and got out right away. It was low 50’s in the water and not much warmer outside. I got back into the car. I wasn’t sure if I was going to start biking that day, so I had spent a couple hours trying unsuccessfully to do some writing in the library. When I finally decided to get going, it was almost noon, and the wind had picked up in earnest. It usually started about 10 in the morning. I wanted to bike down to the California state line or up to the Washington state line. Washington was further, and I had a few days, so I headed north.

I parked the car and got my panniers ready in a Fred Myers. I saw signs here that also said No Overnight Parking, but I thought I’d risk it. There wasn’t any better place to park. I was feeling somewhat paranoid. I didn’t know anyone, and I just wanted to get on the road. I didn’t want anyone to pull up and ask me what I was doing or tell me that there was no overnight parking here. Usually, I enjoy the feeling of being a stranger, unknown and passing through, but only when I’m actually passing through. Be in the same place for too long and you might start to get recognized! Better to go unrecognized. Invisibility has always been the most desirable superpower to me. As a traveler, invisibility comes naturally. You blend in on the outside while still remaining unblended on the inside. Actually, often times you don’t blend in on the outside. The weight on the back of my bike would clearly distinguish me as an outsider. Very well, an outsider is usually what I prefer to be.

I quickly threw in some food and clothes in the panniers, not thinking all that much about just what I was throwing in, loaded on the tarp and sleeping pad, checked for a second to see if I had everything, and started pedaling. It was about noon, and I moved slowly for the first few miles, the same way I moved for most of the journey north. I hadn’t reckoned with the wind, which was strong and blowing directly into my face. I would also have to get used to the weight, which was 60 pounds at the least and probably more. Hunter Thompson writes in The Rum Diary, “I had a flash of something I hadn’t felt since my first months in Europe—a mixture of ignorance and a loose, ‘what the hell’ kind of confidence that comes on a man when the wind picks up and he begins to move in a hard straight line toward an unknown horizon.”

This is how I felt. Instead of despairing over the wind, I felt reckless, adventurous. I was pedaling against a powerful force; the wind was brutal, punishing, unforgiving, and indifferent to all comers. So be it. I would rather make my way against the indifferent wind along the rocky splendor of the Oregon Coast than try to make some legal tender by going up the actively cruel ladder of human production and consumption.

The miles were hard-earned from the get-go. Highway 101 climbs out of Florence before it drops down to Yachats. So I climbed. It took me a long time to get to Yachats, maybe three hours to go the 24 miles, maybe more. I realized in my paranoid rushing in the Fred Myers parking lot, I had forgotten a phone charger. I wanted to keep my phone charged in case I decided to go a different route or to look up things to do in the towns I passed through.

John owned the ramshackle electronic shop in Yachats, cords and wires all over the place. He only took cash. ‘The grocery store gives cash back,’ he told me. ‘You can pick up a snickers.’ I realized that was exactly what I craved, so I went to the grocery store next door, picked up two snickers and an espresso drink. It was a habit I would continue through the four-day trip, during which I ate horribly. Then I went back and talked with John about the wind. That was really the only thing on my mind. The wind has that way about it, clearing the mind of anything else but itself, the force you’re biking into. John told me that the difference in temperature between the coast and the inland was as much as forty degrees this day. It stayed that way into the weekend. 60-65 on the coast, close to 100 inland. Apparently, this difference was the cause of the ferocious wind, my brutal enemy on the way north and my good dear friend on the way south. He said some other things but my mind deemed them too scientific to understand.

I wished him good health (he was just getting over a flu) and then again it was to the road. I had gotten over one mighty hilly section and for a while the terrain was relatively flat. I had passed one woman a few miles before Yachats who looked like she was in utter despair, her head in her hands on the side of the road. I felt like if I stopped it would be a while before I continued, so I didn’t stop and give her the support I couldn’t have given her anyways. Now there were bikers going the other way, with the wind, looking exuberant and light. The opposite of me. They would wave happily at me and I would grimly put up a hand. There were many of them going the other way, but in my days on the road, that one woman in despair was the only one I saw going north against the wind.

I had driven this route the previous December, when I was heading from Alaska, where I had spent the fall with my cousins, to Arizona, where I was going to start college. I remembered staying the night at the Dublin House in Yachats and then getting off the 101 the next morning, driving to Eugene and getting on the I-5. Back then, somewhere north of Florence and south of Lincoln City, somewhere around where I was biking now, I had jumped into the ocean, though both the water and the outside temperature were in the 40’s. I had written this a few weeks afterwards,

“There was a definite feeling, on this December day on the Oregon shore, that I was not an important part of this scene in any way. Whether I or anyone else was here, the sea would remain, sometimes calm and sometimes violent, the waves would crash, the islands of rock and trees would stand. It was a reassuring reminder, the patient indifference of the lively inhuman elements.

In the summer, I’m sure the beach would have swarmed with men and women and children. But today it was empty of people and full of life. I wasn’t distracted by bathers and surfers, and I was able, when I paused for a few moments before I got to the car, to appreciate the beauty that surrounded me—the massive rock islands that stood to the south, the light Irish drizzle that fell from the low grey sky, the seagulls that soared north with the coastal winds. The realization that I was irrelevant to the scene was a simple one, but it freed me from the narrowing self-absorption that comes from driving alone, one of many poor souls detained in cars on the endless road, with only billboards for company, brought me back to the larger open world around me, the sands and trees and sea, including me but not requiring my presence.”

more oregon coast

oregon coast

The self-absorption that driving brings does not come as much when biking. Because cycling is a physical struggle, the mind has no time to sink into self-pity or self-absorption. It must be in tune with the body, focused on pushing forward. When the body is not moving, the mind is free to do what it pleases, to be absorbed with itself and unresponsive to the outside world. Biking allows for another type of absorption, an absorption in movement and activity. On the coast, I was able to be present and responsive to the world of rock and sea and sky and trees. I was forced to be present; I could not help but be where I was. If my mind drifted at all, the biking would quickly become more difficult. The body needed the mind in order to persevere. The coastal winds added another element that required even greater presence. To ride north on the Oregon coast in the summer is a long and arduous lesson in patience and acceptance. I had to let go of any idea of myself as strong, as physically powerful. I was no match for the wind. To work with the wind at all I had to go slowly. There was no other way. I had to put my head down and endure the pain without expending unnecessary energy.

I continued on into the night. Each time I wanted to stop for the night, I told myself to keep on for just a few more miles. Who knows why? I simply wanted to keep going.

oregon sunset

I was also in a stretch without many places to camp for the night. Newport was fifty miles from Florence and Lincoln City was eighty. Between the two, I don’t remember seeing any places to camp other than RV campgrounds, where tent sites are exorbitant, up to $40 a night. One of my rules of the road is never paying to sleep if I can help it. If I do have to pay, the maximum price I am willing to spend is $6, the price of a tent site in the national forest and state park campgrounds. I was also riding through a busy stretch. This first day on the road was a Thursday but it might just as well have been a weekend day. The highway stayed like this all the way up from Florence to the Washington State line and back again. The noise was at times unbearable for me, and so I put in headphones, diluting my ability to be present. But most of the time, even when I was riding right next to the ocean, I could not hear it or smell it because of the noise and exhaust from the cars. So I listened to Bob Dylan, belting out his Blood on the Tracks album.

“But me I’m still on the road,
Heading for another joint.
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from another point of view
Tangled up in blue”

Or Warren Zevon:

“Gridlock, up ahead
There’s a line of cars as far as I can see
Gridlock, goin’ nowhere
Roll down the window, let me scream”

Finally, past 11, I pulled into a state park in Lincoln City, about eighty miles from where I had started in Florence.

oregon caost sunset

Why Wilderness Therapy Works

Why does wilderness therapy work when other therapies don’t work? The word is wilderness. No person is healing another person. No one is the healer, no one the healed. Out in the wilderness, away from everything that makes it necessary to need healing, healing comes naturally. It doesn’t even look like healing, like recovery. In wilderness, recovery is not the final goal. What good is recovering what you have lost if you don’t uncover anything new? The wilderness allows for uncovering in addition to recovery. You begin by recovering the aspects of yourself that were lost to the addiction, compulsion, mental disorder, whatever. Then you begin to uncover aspects of yourself that you had never known about. You uncover aspects of yourself that do not belong to you alone. You uncover aspects of the world that also happen to be aspects you share. You recover the fact that you are capable. You can hike many miles in a day, you can make a fire, make a shelter. You can survive; you are worthy of your existence. You uncover the fact that you are more than capable, more than worthy. You discover a power that has nothing to do with superiority over other people; you discover a love that cannot be expressed, a love that comes into you from nowhere and out of you towards no definite object; you discover a sense of belonging that does not need to be identified and has nothing to do with other people. You discover the stillness at the heart of things, and in your own heart. You wake up the morning after the storm, and all the trees are still standing. You look at them and feel their strength, their robust aliveness.

The wilderness heals when words fail. And don’t words always fail? Ain’t talking, just walking. Let us walk together through the woods, both of us pilgrims, “searching ones on the speechless, seeking trail.” What are we seeking? If we knew, would we be speechless? Perhaps we would. Don’t we seek life, and is it true that life also seeks us? It certainly seems that way. Each person is sought by life, let’s call it, to give what only that person can give. We are sought and called in order that we might call back in answer, ‘I am here, and I will remain. I am here to answer the call of the one who seeks me, the one who I seek.’ And is it one who I seek? It could be one, it could be none, and it could be many. I seek the place where the one are many, and the many are one. I seek the place where there are none but myself and yet I am not the self I thought I was. Not another soul is there, but is that the truth? I seek the place where I become no one. Nemo. Everett Ruess disappearing into the red rock canyons.

What does it mean that wilderness therapy works? Is that the right word for it? Yes. This is Gurdjieff’s Work here, the work of awakening, of becoming one’s authentic self. Do you think you are already yourself? Maybe you are, I couldn’t know that. I know I am not, not completely. I am a fragment of the whole self. There is always further to go, more work to be done. I’m not there yet, but in the wilderness I do not worry about being not there. Where am I not? Where I am not is unimportant. Where I am is what matters. Being where I am is how I move towards who I’m not yet, who I could be.

Of course, there are moments of despair even in the pure clean air. There are moments of despair everywhere. Nothing we can do to escape those, especially when we’re in the wilderness. Where to go? What to say? What to do? Can’t drink, can’t get prescribed anything, can’t drive through the night, can’t rob a bank. Just keep walking, I suppose. Walk straight into it. Will the despair pass through and away like a storm from the east? Who knows? No use in minimizing it, rationalizing it, idealizing it. No use in talking about it at all. Ain’t talking, just walkin’. But even in the wilderness, that strange human desire for verbal utterance is still there. Very well, speak then. But it is important to choose your words carefully. The human words must somehow do justice to the inhuman beauty of the place. This is exceedingly difficult, and oftentimes it is better to melt into the silence. To become a part of the inhuman we become inhuman ourselves. Inhuman not meaning ‘unfeeling’ or ‘cold’ or ‘cruel’, but as defined by the poet Robinson Jeffers in his philosophy of Inhumanism: “A shifting of emphasis and significance from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence.”

To become part of the inhuman, we must not focus so much on the human. What was your relationship with your parents like? With your romantic partners? What do you remember about the trauma you suffered at age 7 when your parents accidentally packed you tuna for lunch, forgetting that you preferred pb + j? Well, I think I was enmeshed with my parents, or maybe abandoned by them. All my romantic partners left me, or maybe I left them all. The trauma with tuna, I think, is still affecting me in a deep and significant way today, as I instinctively recoil whenever I see anything remotely fish-like. Whatever. These human questions and answers fade into insignificance in the wilderness, as they deserve. They are not integral to The Work.

What is integral to The Work? Jeffers knew it. It is integral that we recognize the beauty of the inhuman world and feel a part of it. Recognize the human and the inhuman within us. Envy and equanimity. Anger and serenity. Vanity and authenticity. Fear and courage. The jealous, prideful, and possessive love, and the detached, humble, object-less love. The desire to fade into the shadows and the desire to be pierced with and surrounded by light. The passion for success and recognition, the continual striving; the sea receding from shore in the night, the vast sky overhead filled with light.

Backpacking in Lower Burro Creek (Part 2)

Day 2

Today we walk five physically strenuous miles in heavy brush. After dropping our packs in a remote canyon, undisturbed by any sign of human presence, we explore another half mile farther into the canyon. We come to a pool of water below stark cliffs that make for some rather difficult climbing. I decide to risk it and engage in a little primitive recreation, without ropes or harness, in order to scale the walls to the north. After doing so, I run ahead for a few minutes, dodging prickly pear and teddy bear cacti, looking for a spring expected to be another mile and a half ahead. No luck. It’s either elsewhere or farther on. I return back to my adventuring companions and jump into the pool, into the cold water.

Day 3

Sunrise over the canyon walls. I awaken early and climb up a little ways to meet it. I find a rock, take my hiking boots off, and listen to the multitude of birds giving glory to the rising sun.

Glory in it, with it, and to it. Feel your smallness; feel your significance. You are small, yet you are significant, for you welcome the sun with human song while the birds welcome it with birdsong. Let the birds educate you in the primitive art of sun celebration. Let the rocks educate you in the primitive art of waiting patiently for the sun’s warmth. The plants can teach you something there as well. Let the trees teach you how to soar while staying grounded. The branches soar and the roots are grounded. “There is knowledge only the wild can give us, knowledge specific to the experience of it. These are its gifts to us,” Jack Turner writes. Some days the gift is silent and wraps up in silence whoever uncovers it. The gift this morning is the gift of song. The birds sing to celebrate the gift of the sun as I celebrate the gift of undisturbed solitude on this hill in the sun. We are brought together in celebration.

A day to glory in and give glory to. Glory to the sun in the highest. Sing, glory to the sun. Glory to this rock that I sit on and peace to all the myriad creatures on earth. Let us be reconnected and reconciled.

Day 4

Morning, the last day of the trip, time unknown. The sun touches the highest point of the cliffs that stand above me as I climb up the western hillside, listening to the barely audible trickling of Kaiser Spring, now thirty yards below me. Almost all of the plants on this hill are some shade of green: palo verde, ocotillo, saguaro, prickly pear, barrel cactus. All living organisms in this green desert lean towards spring. I join this open procession, this renewal; I listen as Life sings itself to wakefulness. I continue up the hill, each step on ground I have never before stepped on. Each step restores me to a new equilibrium that I could never have found on my own; I am reintroduced to the stores of energy and power within me.

The sun is now on the cliffs directly behind me, but I am still in shadow. I hear the canyon wren below me, and other unnameable birds, birds I cannot name, around me. I am surrounded by beauty I cannot name. The birds, by serenading the unnameable, become an integral part of it. They soar beyond label. They sing and I listen. I am not only the audience. I try to translate the unnameable with the power of human symbol, try to get a loose hold of some of that beauty on paper.

I climb up to a rock where the sun shines. Sitting on the rock in the sun, I say a wordless blessing. I am blessed by the existence of a place that no human can improve. It would be arrogant of me to believe I could improve this place; the best I can do is receive its gifts, be receptive to its grace, and then let it be.

Humans attempt to improve what cannot be improved in order to prove the superiority of civilized man over wild nature. Leave all that talk of superiority and inferiority, of subordination and dependency, of administration and management, of comparison and improving—leave all that to relationships between human beings. The relationship between human beings and the wild cannot be one of comparison or of improvement. The greatest improvement in ourselves is when we cease trying to improve anyone or anything else, above all anything wild.

Instead of trying to control the outer wilderness, we should strive to understand what is wild within us, which will lead to an understanding that we cannot control anyone or anything else. The more we try to control the wild, externally or internally, or use it for our own benefit, the more out of control it becomes. What is wild is intrinsically perfect, is whole as it is: “To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness.” When we try and control what is whole, we split ourselves. We separate ourselves from what we cannot be separate from. To become a part of the whole we must strive for wholeness within ourselves. “The whole is made of parts,” Snyder writes, “each of which is whole.”

The wordless blessing has now found words. I bless this day where I am restored in this place that needs no restoring. This place that needs to be left how it is. It is not a blessing I give so much as it is an acceptance of the blessing I receive. The wild does not need my blessing. It is already blessed in every respect. It needs to remain that way.

I scramble farther up the cliff for another moment or two and then head back down to our campsite. Before we take our leave, the four of us linger by the clear water of Kaiser Spring. The sun slants through cottonwood and willow trees, reflects off the water dripping down from the pure spring. No one says a word. “In the beginning,” Terry Tempest Williams writes, “there were no words.”

The origin of Kaiser Spring is another quarter-mile on. We shoulder our packs and depart for the Source. The sound of the water flowing the other way alongside us is like silence.

Backpacking in Lower Burro Creek (Part 1)

Day 1

I sit by Burro Creek, not yet in the proposed wilderness area, close enough to a road to attract those with a Jeep or Subaru. A family is nearby: an older man, his wife, and two young children. The man, who looks to be the grandfather of the young boy and girl, is wearing an NRA cap. So this is not yet undisturbed solitude, but his mere presence neither disturbs me nor deters me from exploring this place. I do begin to feel slightly disturbed when he throws rocks into the stream to entertain his grandkids. But soon they leave, and I am left alone.

Let even the rocks alone; let them be where they are. Leave the rocks alone that do not move on their own. Can we be unmovable like the rocks? Can we be fluid like the water moving over and around the rocks?

Soft like the water and hard like the rocks. My legs are hard from biking but my heart in this place cannot be anything but soft, as I listen to water flow over granite, the soft over the hard. I feel my heart overflowing, love flowing into me. It is the soft heart that spurs me on my journey and decides where home is, and the legs that harden to get me there.

And where do I need to get? Call it nowhere. Here I am. I want to get right in the middle of here. In the wild, no place alone is central because each place is a center connected to some circumference, is a place where we can experience solitude without being alone, or where we can be alone without feeling pain at our aloneness. In the wild, we can get to the core of our loneliness, we can find that the deeper we sink the less lonely we become. It is not so bad to be alone, though we are always forgetting this fact. “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” Thoreau writes. I write of solitude and I mean connection. I write of recreation and I mean re-creation. I write of going out and, like Muir, I mean coming home.

I listen to the water; I sit on the rock; there is no need for any other companions at this time. The great longing for connection, the yearnings for truth and beauty and power and love, are here fulfilled. I have always longed to be, and to be myself. Now, I be-long. I am. I am here.

Here, I am.

I let the creek take all my confusion. The creek takes it without being burdened by it. It takes it by not taking it too seriously. It takes it by giving me peace. Letting me be at peace. Let the water let me, let me be by the water. I let myself be. I let myself see.

I let myself go and am held.

We need to let ourselves go. We need to let go of the idea of ourselves as superior to what holds us. We need to go to the wild and behold its beauty. Let go and be held.

But I do not intend to speak for what we must do; I speak for I must do. I find I can speak most clearly in places where humans are awed into silence. I want to speak for that which does not speak through any language human beings can understand. I want to speak with the force of the rivers’ rapids, with the calm of a still-moving stream, with power and with stillness, with the same even-keeled equanimity of the clouds that drift above the creek, languid and fluid at this moment yet containing the power to bring storm. I want to speak like the body of water that connects and cannot be separate from the two banks, that answers all questions without words. I will speak with words until I have learned to speak without them, until I understand the language that no longer needs them.

I sit on a rock by the creek, close my eyes, and say a silent prayer, praying to understand the language of not needing, of being without needing to be otherwise.

I sit on a rock by the creek and try to exist with the rhythm of the water, to be part of its song. I try to listen for the sound beneath the sound. I don’t hear it; it doesn’t matter.

Only where people predominate do I need to listen for the sound beneath the sound. Here, where I am now, in the aliveness, where all things move and exist freely, there is no sound beneath the sound. The sound on the surface is enough. What I hear and see is more than enough. What I hear and see is the abundance of life at the end of the day.

I hear the water in the creek below me. I hear the chirping of crickets around me, filling the darkening sky with their bright song. I see the clouds above me moving to the west, towards the sun, now going down below the horizon.

Aimlessness and Purpose

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The log in the river is not aimless, the dolphin in the sea is not aimless, the cloud, though drifting in the otherwise blue sky, is not aimless. Each goes where it goes and does not go where it cannot go. But I am not a log in the river, or a dolphin in the ocean, or a cloud in the sky. I am a man who often feels aimless. It is important sometimes to observe myself when I look at the cloud, observing both myself and the cloud, perceiving how the cloud goes nowhere in particular and perceiving how I am going nowhere at all. I am just standing there, or sitting there, watching the cloud.

I am aimless when I forget what my aim in life is. Is it to glorify God in the highest and bring peace to his people on earth? No. I cannot hope to bring peace to anyone but myself. Is my aim to be on the road, to travel in a home-going way, going always away and always coming home? Is my aim to find my aim, or to pursue the Self in me that needs no aim? Is my aim to engross myself in our material civilization and become one of the many? No. I have a purpose beyond that. Entering society may be the beginning, and is helpful for some things I cannot do alone, but further than that society assists me only as it helps me to realize myself. If I am not doing that, I am not living life, and in that case whether I am engrossed in society or not makes little difference. If I am not living, what am I doing? I am aimlessly drifting toward death, or I am already dead. When death comes, I want to meet it as an equal, I do not want to be taken by it. I want to die many times before Death comes so that when Death comes it takes only what is not me; it does not take the whole man. To be so I am not taken by death I must be a whole man.

My ambitions are turned towards myself, not in a self-absorbed, egotistical way, but only because I am determined to overcome the self that sits down here today, to explore much deeper than the ego-self, to dig down far below what is visible, to find the truth hidden in the invisible. This is my ultimate aim: to bring forth the invisible, to express it in such a way that the reader can see the invisible within herself, and remembers who she is. To be fully myself, I must remember who I am. Only such a man can help another to remember. But it is difficult, and my aimlessness drifts back anytime I forget, if only for a moment. There are many moments when I forget, when I question whether I ever knew, whether I ever can know. Am I not simply a man? And wouldn’t it be better to be a simple man, concerning myself with the essentials of life, physical needs and family? No. Though I practice simplicity and feel it is essential and part of the aim, I am not a simple man who can concern himself only with physical needs and family. I am a man who aims to point people to what is not-man through my own experience of who I am. This is my aim, my purpose.

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What is essential for me is something deeper than the physical and visible. Many people remain on the surface of the water. They float along like the log in the river and do not feel the need to go faster or slower or deeper. Where they are at all times is the only place they can consider being. What they see at all times is all they can imagine seeing. It does not even occur to these people that they could be anywhere else or be seeing anything else. Nothing exists but what is directly in front of them. In times of weakness, I envy these people’s easy contentment. But in reality I know I am not one of them. There are a few who do not float in this way. As these few become conscious of where they are and who they are, they say to themselves, ‘I cannot float here. I was not made for these waters.’

So they sink for a time, though only half by choice, and so become only half-aware of what lies beneath the surface. When they have risen to the surface, by their own tortured choice, they look back and see in a hazy way the confusing contents of what he has already traversed. They resent the part of the river they have already gone through. It was not the way they wished it had been. When going through rapids they wished for serene waters. When all was calm, they were restless for the rougher water. Now they struggle to look ahead. They are tense and troubled thinking about what could trouble them around the next curve, yet they cannot help thinking about it. They want to know what will come beforehand so they can know how to approach and confront it. How can they know what to do when they do not know what is to come? Their lack of knowledge and understanding force them to go under again. Maybe going below the surface now they will find the answer to what will come above it later. The aim of those who sink is ultimately to come to the surface, to be on the surface, but their purpose on the surface demands that they have sunk far beneath it. They must find the tide without resisting the riptide. They cannot float without having sunk, and they will sink until they learn to float.

The drifter becomes so when he says, ‘I am not fit for these waters,’ fully believing and knowing the truth of what he says. Though born fit, in life he like everyone else becomes unfit. Not everyone sees that they are unfit for the waters. Many people feel they are fit and are deluded. But the drifter sees clearly how unfit for the waters he is; he feels it like he feels the tug of the rip current pulling him downwards. His aim in life is to again become fit for the waters he was born fit for. In fitful spurts, by relentless struggle, he continually sinks and comes back to the surface. He wants to say, ‘I can float here. I know how to float without drifting and sink without drowning. I know now what I need to do. I know now what I need to say. I know I cannot do otherwise.’ But he cannot say or do any of it until he truly believes and knows it, and this might take a long time, a lifetime, or it might never take, and so in the end he will be taken in Death’s hands, his own hands empty and his mind unclear, having never reached the clear and pure water of his own true nature that would fill and fulfill him. If he reaches that pure water, he will love it all, and will make no distinction between the pure and impure.

Road Trip to the Grand Canyon, Ooh's and Aah's, Creative Greetings, Life Plans, Favorite Words

But back to the primary aim. I follow the Self that leads me and can follow no one else. I can lead no one but whoever follows their own lead. If I cannot follow my own lead, I will certainly fail to lead anyone else. I must go from painful loneliness and isolation to a solitude that cannot be compared, an aloneness that slowly deepens into ultimate connection. My natural state, and the natural state of all humans, is loneliness, isolation, and aimlessness. Knowing my aim and living it takes away loneliness. The aim brings with it the aloneness; the two cannot be separated. Anything that distracts from that aloneness distracts me from the aim. If I pursue only the companionship needed to alleviate my loneliness without the connection needed to deepen my aloneness, I am forgetting my purpose, I am forgetting what has worth. Anything that distracts me or leads to forgetfulness is worthwhile only if it brings me back to remembering.

I am worthwhile when I remember, when I follow my lead but am not led blindly, when I seek my aim, when in myself I feel at home, when in everything I see beauty, when in every sound I hear God.

This morning there are few sounds. I hear the coffee pot, the wall heater. My hands hammering on the keyboard is the most obtrusive sound, and it is the sound of my greater self disciplining my lesser self, like the hammer pounding in the nail to build the foundation of the house. It is hours before the dawn. Without these hours, on days when I wake up late, I start the day already alienated from who I am, already distant from my deeper nature. I feel a sense of irretrievable loss on those days that for most people would be out of all proportion to the cause. Those are lost days, and with too many of those I become lost myself. The aimlessness is born out of the distance between surface and depth; it is the head-banging, out of control teenage offspring that drifts between the deep and shallow.

To avoid that sense of aimlessness, that feeling of being lost and without purpose, I will do anything to recklessly seek purpose, perhaps with the purpose wrecking poison itself that leads only to greater lostness. My aim is to live in those the depths, but it is a daily struggle. Instead of mourning the alienation that begins the day, I work to understand it, to overcome it, and to get beneath it. And sometimes simply to sit in it, to sit in the distance like the traveler sits on the southbound train, a fierce light in his eyes, beholding the horizon he is held by, the horizon that calls him onwards. My discipline must be stronger than my self-pity, my desire to wake up stronger than my desire to stay asleep. If my body is awake but I stay unaware of my deeper nature, I might as well stay sleeping. It comes to the same thing. Either way, I am dreaming, not fully awake, and not even half-alive.

I am alive to the extent that I am awake; to the extent that I am connected with what I consider to be my deepest, most essential Self. Without a connection to that power, without feeling myself to be that power, or without feeling that power to be within me, nothing I do can make any difference at all. I can do nothing alone, without that power, but I can also do nothing without admitting and welcoming authentic aloneness. All true doing comes from being truly alone. Though I might be in the midst of an aimless material civilization, surrounded by crowds of people; though I might be a stranger, far away from any friend or relative; though I might be utterly alone, if I welcome the aloneness, I am welcomed home.

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What is Under and What is Out

The goal is not to see ourselves as unexceptional, no different from anyone else, but to see others as exceptional, to see the life-giving and unlimited potential for uniqueness in everyone and everything. Seeing what makes you stand out only means realizing what sits within all. Seeing it in yourself is a start, but if you don’t keep moving on the road you aren’t on the road at all. Finding the exceptional in others, in the other-than-human: this is the road. Keeping on it does not mean keeping under what you find on it. Keep on, go under, bring out, and walk into where time is not and all.

It may be a long time before you are able to find it within. Keep walking. Keep going out, under and out, under and out, a little further this time.

It may be a long time before you are able to bring it out. Dive down again, down and out if need be, go under, a little deeper this time.

What is under seems a long way away from what is out. They are not so far apart as they often seem. Although you might only feel a part of the places and people you depart from, there is another part for you to play. You are not so far apart as you often feel. You’re a wanderer, but haven’t you come to find you are more than the one who goes and grows lost?

As long as you are saying something you need to say, you can say it any way. Say it anyway, regardless of what may stand in your way, say it so you have said it and can move on to saying something new. Say it and play with it, tease it out of yourself, seize it and let it go gently. Let it go as you let it in. What you let out is what you let in.

As the sun sets, and I ride up to where the trees enclose the road in darkness; as I breathe in the exhilarating air of high elevation desert forest and feel what below I am somehow prevented from feeling, I breathe out any sense of doubt, any sense of inadequacy, any thought that I am not quite up for the task. Feeling it here I know I can feel it there, if only by its apparent absence. Its existence below I do not doubt, but I doubt myself when I cannot perceive it, when I do not experience it.

I do this climb daily, whether at sunset or after it has grown dark, if only to remind myself that it is, that I can.

Roads and Roadless Areas

In a place without roadless areas, I may know where I am at all times but I find I do not know where I’m going. I stand at the intersection of Main Street and Independence and do not know which road to take. The one cuts through the center of town and the other exits to the beltway, which circles town, dependent on its center. Where the roads lead leave me lost. Lost and running out of time.

I go past the outskirts of town that encircle the beltway, towards where there are no roads, for there I am on my own road, which is formed as I go forward, and then left behind, with no signs to show where I’ve gone. Left on my own, not led by any road, I may not know where I am at any one time, but I know where I’m going.

Not running after time, I do not run out of time, but walk into a world where neither it nor I play a part. As I walk into a part of the world outside the comic absurdity and tragic suffering of the human play, something returns to me like water from the shore returning gently to the sea. What was on the surface of the shore recedes until there is nothing but the ocean and its depths without measure. The guise that had acted as a protective shell is not cleaved violently open but gradually unveiled, for what had needed protection for so long now must be revealed as slowly as it took to become concealed.

Day Giving Reign to Night, Night Becoming Day

On the drive up from Phoenix, she took pictures of the clouds as they lost their pink light the color of her hair. Her love went into her shots, refusing to die down with the sun, setting below the mountains to the west. She held on to the light as it faded, found within a light that would remain until that outer light returned, a strength no sunset could weaken. She zoomed in on her subject and came closer to herself. Panning out, she found perspective. She looked through her lens out the window, now east towards what was rising, now west towards what was setting.

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As the light slipped away and the night overcame the day, she grasped the beauty of the in-between, day giving reign to night, night becoming day. And when is night not becoming day? When is day not growing into night? Beauty does not reside only in those few moments shortly before the sun rises, but in all moments when something is rising. In all moments, for something is always rising, coming into being, becoming. As the sun went down, the moon was coming up. In a day or two it would be full.

 

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